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  • Budd Bailey

Buffalo Bills: March 24, 1978 – O.J. goes home to San Francisco

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

(Editor’s Note: Reedy Press has published “The Buffalo Bills: An Illustrated Timeline of a Storied Franchise.” The book was written by Greg Tranter and Budd Bailey; click here for more information. The authors wrote some potential chapters to the book that were not used, and didn’t want to put them to waste. Therefore, they thought people would like to read about those events from the team’s past on this site. It will give you a taste of what the text of the coffee-table book is like.)

When the Bills drafted O.J. Simpson after the 1968 college football season, their fans probably figured that he wasn’t the type of player who would spend his entire career in Buffalo. Stars like that don’t hang around forever in Western New York.

Those feeling only grew by the end of the 1977 season. O.J. only played seven games that season due to injuries, and the team had a 3-11 record. A massive rebuilding program was obviously coming, and a 30-year-old running back probably didn’t fit into those plans … even if his name was O.J. Simpson.

Once Chuck Knox arrived as the head coach, he reasonably assumed that Simpson would be a good bargaining trip for a trade. He found a partner in San Francisco, which had gone 5-9 and needed a little excitement on the field. O.J. grew up in San Francisco and certainly would be receptive to a deal to return him there. But even Knox must have been surprised at what the 49ers were willing to give up.

San Francisco gave up selections in Round 2 and Round 3 in 1978, a first- and fourth-round pick in 1979, and a second-rounder in 1980. It didn’t work out perfectly for the Bills, even though the first-rounder in 1979 became the first overall choice. Buffalo picked Tom Cousineau with that choice, but couldn’t sign him and eventually traded his rights to Cleveland. Joe Cribbs, Scott Hutchinson, Danny Fulton and Ken Johnson did play for the Bills, and Cribbs was the best of that bunch.

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